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Last reviewed July 2023

Minnesota Issue Guide
Charter Schools

This guide is compiled by staff at the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library on a topic of interest to state legislators. It introduces the topic and points to sources for further research. It is not intended to be exhaustive.

Legislative History   Books and Reports   Articles  Internet Resources  Additional Library Resources  Groups

The basic concept of the charter school is simple: a group of teachers or other would-be educators apply for permission to open a school. The school operates under a charter, a contract with the local school board or state. Exempt from most state and local laws and regulations, the school must prove that students have gained the educational skills specified in that initial contract in order to renew the charter. The funding for charter schools parallels that of public schools. The charter school movement can be traced back to 1974 when Ray Budde, a Massachusetts educator, issued a report titled, Education by Charter. For additional information, see the Origins of Chartering Timeline.

In 1991, Minnesota passed the first charter school legislation in the nation (Laws of Minnesota 1991, chapter 265, article 9, section 3). This ground-breaking Minnesota law allowed the formation of eight results-oriented, student-centered public schools; the first, City Academy in St. Paul, opened its doors in 1992. According to the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools, there are 180 operating charter schools in Minnesota.

In 2008, several analyses of Minnesota charter schools raised questions about the schools' administration and performance. In May, the Minnesota Department of Education issued a report based on a site visit of the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy. The review was conducted after media reports questioned the school's compliance with Minnesota law requiring charter schools to operate in a nonsectarian manner. In June, the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor issued, Charter Schools: Evaluation Report. The report recommended strengthening oversight and accountability requirements in Minnesota law. Finally, the report, Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities, issued in November 2008 (and updated in 2012 and 2013) by the Institute on Race and Poverty, found that Minnesota charter schools perform worse on average than comparable public schools and that they have intensified racial and economic segregation in Twin Cities schools. The 2009 Minnesota Legislature responded to these concerns by passing a law that provided additional oversight of charter school administration, operations, and finance. (Laws of Minnesota 2009, chapter 96).

A few publications detail the history of charter schools in Minnesota. In 2012, Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story, was published by the law's chief author and former Minnesota Senator, Ember Reichgott Junge. The Minnesota Association of Charter Schools (MACS) produced 40 short newsletters in 2021 detailing the history of the Minnesota charter schools to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Minnesota’s charter school law, “Celebrating Charting @ 30 – Minnesota's Story: A Series.” 

Legislative History

The Minnesota Legislature established outcome-based/charter schools as a part of the 1991 Omnibus K-12 Education Finance Bill (Laws of Minnesota 1991, chapter 265, article 9, section 3, HF700/SF467). Prior to being incorporated into HF700, this issue was discussed in hearings on HF773/SF630.

The 2009 legislature amended Minnesota's charter school law to provide additional oversight of charter school operations. (Laws of Minnesota 2009, chapter 96, article 2, section 41).

In 2016 there was a recodification of Minnesota Statutes giving charter schools their own chapter in Minnesota Statute, Minnesota Statute Chapter 124E (Laws of Minnesota 2016, chapter 189, article 26).

2023 brought about significant legislative changes to education funding, laws, and chartered public schools. MACS has detailed these changes on their website, New Law Primer Series. Several of these changes can be found in Laws of Minnesota 2023, chapter 55, article 6.

Significant Books and Reports

Asleep at the Wheel: How the Federal Charter Schools Program Recklessly Takes Taxpayers and Students for a Ride. New York: Network for Public Education, 2019. 

Barr, Spencer, Michael Vanic, Yvette Clinton, and Michael Long. Evaluation of Minnesota’s Charter School Program (CSP) Grant. Fairfax, VA: ICF Incorporated, LLC, 2022. 

Betts, Julian R. and Emily Y. Tang. A Meta-Analysis of the Literature on the Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement. Evanston, IL: Society for Research on Educational Effectiveness, 2016. 

Charter Schools: Evaluation Report. St. Paul: Office of the Legislative Auditor, 2008. (LB2806.36 .C42 2008) 

Charter Schools in the Twin Cities, 2013 Update. Minneapolis, MN: Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, University of Minnesota Law School, 2013. (LB2806.36 .F35 2013). 

Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities. Minneapolis: Institute on Race and Poverty, November 2008. (LB2806.36 .F35 2008) 

Financial Trends of Minnesota School Districts and Charter Schools For the Period 2001 to 2005. St. Paul: Office of the State Auditor, 2006. (LB2826.M6 M563 2006) 

Fitzgerald, John. Checking in on Charter Schools: An Examination of Charter School Finances. St. Paul: Minnesota 2020, 2009. (LB2806.36 .F58 2009) 

Golann, Joanne W. Scripting the Moves: Culture and Control in a “No-Excuses” Charter School. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2021. (LB2806.36 .G65 2021) 

Jacob, Brian A. The Evolution of the Charter School Market and the Next Generation of Charter School Research. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution, 2017. 

Junge, Ember Reichgott. Zero Chance of Passage: the Pioneering Charter School Story. Edina, MN: Beaver's Pond Press, 2012. (LB2806.36 .J864 2012) 

Junold, Deborah Parker, David Chein, and Jan Sandberg. Charter School Financial Accountability: Evaluation Report. St. Paul: Office of the Legislative Auditor, 2003. (LB2806.36 .J86 2003) 

Minnesota Charter and District School Demographics. Center for School Change, June 21, 2021.  

Minnesota District/Charter K-12 Enrollment Trends 2001/2002 - 2011/2012. St. Paul: Center for School Change, 2012. (LB2806.36 .M566 2012) 

The Minnesota School Choice Project: Part I: Segregation and Performance. Minneapolis: Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, 2017. (The report focus is charter schools.) 

National Charter School Laws Across the States: Ranking and Scorecard. Washington, D.C.: Center for Education Reform, 2022. 

Nicotera, Anna and David Stuit. Three Signs That a Proposed Charter School is at Risk of Failing. Washington, D.C.: Thomas Fordham Institute, 2017. 

Parra, Christina. Charter Schools. St. Paul: Minnesota House of Representatives, House Research Department, 2018. 

Principles & Standards for Quality Charter School Authorizing. Alexandria, VA: National Association of Charter School Authorizers, 2023. 

The Quest for Accountability: The State of Charter Schools in 2003. (LB2806.36 .Q47 2003) (Compiled from 73 financial audits of Minnesota Charter Schools - Fiscal Year 2002.) 

Rhim, Lauren Morando et al. Key Trends in Special Education in Charter Schools 2015-2016: A Secondary Analysis of the Civil Rights Data Collection. New York, NY: National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, November 2019. 

Special Education Primer for Authorizers and Charter Schools. (link is a pdf download) St. Paul: Minnesota Dept. of Education, October 2018.  

Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy: Findings Report From MDE Staff Site Visits, April 24 and May 2, 2008. St. Paul: Minnesota Dept. of Education, 2008. (LB2806.36 T37 2008) 

Update of "Failed Promises: Assessing Charter Schools in the Twin Cities". Minneapolis: Institute on Race & Poverty, 2012. (LB2806.36 .F35 2012) 

Wohlstetter, Priscilla. Choices and Challenges: Charter School Performance in Perspective. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Education Press, 2013. (LB2806.36 .W64 2013). 

Significant Articles

(articles in reverse chronological order)

Verges, Josh. “MN school enrollment falls, but charter and private schools add students.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 24, 2023. 

Pros and Cons of Federal Funding of Charter Schools: New rules for accountability vs. Limits on school choice.” Congressional Digest. November 2022. 

Verges, Josh. “Private, online and charter schools keep growing as MN public schools lose more students.St. Paul Pioneer Press, February 26, 2022. 

McKinney, Matt. “Ramsey County documents: Sheriff used taxpayer funds to plan new school.Star Tribune, October 28, 2021. 

Lonetree, Anthony. “St. Paul charter school failed to comply with state law in hedge fund investment, state auditor finds.” Star Tribune, October 13, 2021. 

Celebrating Charting @ 30 – Minnesota's Story: A SeriesMN Association of Charter Schools, August 21, 2021 (vol. 1) - September 20, 2022 (vol. 44). 

Dernbach, Becky Z. “Minnesota pioneered the movement for charter schools 30 years ago. Since then, one in every three statewide has closed.Sahan Journal, June 24, 2021. 

Hodge, Aaliyah and Joe Nathan. “30 years into public charter school movement.Star Tribune, June 22, 2021 

Dernbach, Becky Z. “Cedar Riverside Community School is closing. The first big step in replacing it is understanding why it failed. Here’s what we found over a year of reporting." Sahan Journal, June 17, 2021. 

Lonetree, Anthony. “St. Paul charter school's illegal investment spurs call for moratorium.” Star Tribune, June 11, 2021. 

Dernback, Becky Z. “For almost three decades, Somali children in Minneapolis' Riverside Plaza could attend school in their apartment complex. The historic school will close permanently June 30.” Sahan Journal, May 13, 2021. 

Dernback, Becky Z. “Minneapolis nonprofit may face ‘corrective action’ for flawed supervision of 21 charter schools.” Sahan Journal, April 6, 2021. 

Melo, Frederick. “St. Paul City Council debates halting charter school bond requests for six months.” St. Paul Pioneer Press, September 3, 2020. 

Klecker, Mara. “Minnesota Transitions Charter School to open temporary school at Mall of AmericaStar Tribune, August 26, 2020. 

Strauss, Valerie. "Report: Federal Government Wasted Millions of Dollars on Charter Schools That Never Opened." Washington Post, December 9, 2019.

Hinrichs, Erin. "Campaign to Halt Charter-School Growth is Stirring Up a Heated Debate in St. Paul.MinnPost, November 19, 2019.

"Point/Counter Point: Charter Schools and the Public Interest." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Fall 2019, p. 1053-1076. Summary.

Verges, Josh. "Racial Integration Laws Exempting Charter Schools Might Be Unconstitutional, MN Judge Rules." St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 13, 2019.

Charles, J. Brian. "Charter Anxiety: the Biggest School Reform Movement in the Past Decade is Taking Some Hits." Governing, April 2019, p. 28-33.

Cohodes, Sarah. "Charter Schools and the Achievement Gap." The Future of Children, Winter 2018.

“Charter Schools: Do They Outperform Traditional Public Schools?” CQ Researcher, March 10, 2017.

Finn, Chester E. et al. "Improve Governance for Charters." Phi Delta Kappan, March 2017, p. 63-69.

Smarick, Andy. "A Quiet Revolution: Charter Schooling's First 25 Years." The Weekly Standard, October 24, 2016, p. 20-23.

Prothero, Arianna. "The Evolution of the 'Chartered School': 25 Years On, the Movement has Expanded, Shifted, and Evolved." Education Week, June 8, 2016, p. 1, 14-16.

Sass, Tim R. et al. "Charter High Schools' Effects on Long-Term Attainment and Earnings." Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, Summer 2016, p. 683-706.

Betts, Julian R. A Meta-Analysis of the Literature on the Effect of Charter Schools on Student Achievement. SREE Conference abstract, Spring 2016.

Roch, Christine H and Na Sai. "Nonprofit, For-Profit, or Stand-Alone? How Management Organizations Influence the Working Conditions in Charter Schools." Social Science Quarterly, November 2015, p. 1380-1395.

Berends, Mark. "Sociology and School Choice: What We Know After Two Decades of Charter Schools." Annual Review of Sociology, August 2015, p. 159-180.

Hawkins, Beth. "Ember Reichgott Junge Confronts Seven Myths and Misconceptions About Charter Schools." MinnPost, July 17, 2014.

"What State Policymakers Need to Know About Funding Virtual Charter Schools." The Progress of Education Reform, February 2014, p. 1-6.

Hawkins, Beth. "From 'Zero Chance' to New Collaborations: 20 Years of Charter-School Risk-Taking." MinnPost, June 18, 2012.

Magan, Christopher. "20 Years On, Have Charter Schools Met Their Goals?" St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 3, 2012.

Boyd, Cynthia. "Twin Cities Charter Schools Fail to Deliver Promised Gains, Study Claims." MinnPost, February 24, 2012.

Draper, Norman. "Legislators Plan to Overhaul Charter School System." Star Tribune, January 22, 2009.

Boldt, Megan. "Charters Face More Stringent State Rules: Concerns About Money, Oversight Make Schools a High Legislative Priority." St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 19, 2009.

Budde, Ray. "The Evolution of the Charter Concept." Phi Delta Kappan, September 1996, p. 72-73.

Significant Internet Resources

Center for Education Reform, Choice & Charter Schools - Provides information about the concept of charter schools and links to charter school data. Includes Charter School Law Rankings and Scorecard.

Education Week: Charter Schools - Links to current articles.

Minnesota Department of Education: Charter Schools - Information on Minnesota charter school policy and data including information on each of Minnesota's operating charter schools and a list of approved charter school authorizers.

National Alliance for Public Charter Schools - A wide variety of information including a "Dashboard" that links to extensive data about charter schools as well as a number of reports.

National Charter School Resource Center (NCSRC) - "NCSRC is a source of high-quality resources for charter school stakeholders, including case studies, webinars, reports, and toolkits ". 

Additional Library Resources

For historical information, check the following codes in the Newspaper Clipping File and the Vertical File:
E12.6 - Education-Administration and Organization of Schools

For additional reports at the Legislative Reference Library, use these Library catalog searches:
Charter Schools

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